Neil Johnson Honours the True Celebrities

by | Tue, Jul 19 2022

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‘The world has celebrities…movie stars, singers, athletes and then there’s the heroes of faith. They are the real celebrities.’

Neil Johnson, the host of the current events programme 20Twenty, talks with Eric Skattebo on The Story podcast about his radio career, meeting celebrities, discovering true celebrities and the inspiration behind his book, Public Christians in a Secular Age.

A Life-Changing Decision

Neil was born in Mitchell, a small country town in Queensland. His maternal and paternal grandfathers were both picture show men. They travelled around towns with portable projectors and set up open-air movies for Saturday night entertainment.

When Neil was five, his mother died. Four years later, his father remarried, throwing him and his sister into a blended family. At fourteen, Neil came to what he describes as a fork in the road. While attending a Baptist youth camp, he gave his life to Jesus. It was a decision that would change the course of his life. Most markedly, it helped him avoid the pitfalls his older stepbrother fell into of drug use and rebellion. His stepbrother paid a heavy price, later ending his life, which greatly impacted him and his family.

The Glamourous Life of Radio

Neil’s radio career started when he was sixteen. The local radio station was looking for a part-time announcer to work on weekends, and he got the job. Once he finished school, he moved to Emerald and worked full-time as 4HI radio’s first-appointed night announcer. A year later, he scored a more glamorous job as an announcer for 4GG radio on the Gold Coast. He spent the next five years at 4GG rubbing shoulders with celebrities who would come from all over the world, and Australia, to perform on the Gold Coast. He wasn’t always the interviewer but recalls it was a unique experience for a young man.

‘ I’ve got an autograph album full of lots of famous people’s autographs.’

Some of the international celebrities Neil met were singers Tom Jones, Andy Williams, Harry Wayne Casey from KC and the Sunshine Band, James Reyne from Australian Crawl, Iva Davies from Ice House, comedians, and movie stars such as Jane Powell, and politicians, one being John Howard.

Finding the True Celebrities

It wasn’t until a decade or two later, when he worked in Christian radio, that he had the most incredible experience. It started with his interview with Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh, two Iranian ladies who had been sentenced to be executed for their Christian faith. By a chain of miraculous events, they were released and fled Iran. They wrote a book called Captive In Iran, telling their story of God’s amazing grace. These women changed Neil’s views on what a true celebrity is; someone who stands for their faith in Jesus to the point of being sentenced to execution for their faith.

‘Celebrities who sing songs or appear in movies are nowhere near the celebrity status of someone who has stood like that for Christ. They are the real heroes that I’ve met in my day.’

It was then that Neil realised that being starstruck by secular celebrities paled in comparison to meeting Christians who have been arrested, imprisoned or even sentenced to death for their faith. He has since met and interviewed many people who have been arrested, tortured, and those who have been delivered from death row. Some of these people were Graham Preston, founder of Protect Life, Barnabas Mam, author of Church Behind the Wire: A Story of Faith in the Killing Fields, Daniel Shayesteh, Bob Fu and Petr Jasek. You can hear their testimonies by clicking on the link highlighting their names. Bob Fu’s Book, God’s Double Agent can be purchased at Vision’s Online store.

‘These are the true celebrities’, says Neil. ‘They have been through persecution and come out on the other side with their faith strengthened. They are the ones who are able to give glory to God, even though they’ve been through a trial. They are really special people.’

The Terror of ISIS

In 2015, Neil visited Beirut in Lebanon with a wonderful organisation called Open Doors, which helps sustain persecuted Christians in nations where the Christian faith is under threat. We spent a couple of days on the Syrian border at a time when ISIS was active and the civil war was at its peak. There were 800,000 refugees who had flooded across the border from Syria into Lebanon. It was a privilege to be able to visit persecuted believers in a refugee camp or to see the work that goes on behind the scenes with Open Doors. They are truly heroes of faith. Neil had the privilege of meeting people who were very close to death, and God intervened at the last minute. These are incredible stories of believers who serve God in the harshest of circumstances.

Neil’s book Public Christians in a Secular Age is about the challenges Christians face living in a secular world. It explores the cultural change sweeping the western world and how to apply Biblical wisdom to your business, ministry or organisation. You’ll find valuable insights and practical wisdom on how to resist secularism and flourish as a leader under God.

To purchase a copy of Neil’s book, click on the link to Vision’s Online Store.

To hear more of Neil’s story, listen to the podcasts below.